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The Hyksos at Heliopolis 



THE actual beginning of the work of excavation at Heliopolis 
by Professor William Flinders Petrie, February 26, 1912, 
was an event in Egyptian exploration whose full significance 
can hardly yet be appreciated, while the outcome may be dis- 
appointing. Archaeologists are constantly reminded by their 
experience that it is the unexpected that happens, and they 
have occasion to cultivate the stoicism of the Spanish proverb, 
"Blessed are they that expect nothing, for they shall not be 

Not much is definitely known concerning the ancient city 
of On, Egyptian Annu, but the glorious reputation of that 
ancient capital and religious center spreads its glamour over 
the early history of dynastic Egypt and also glows like an 
aurora on the horizon of patriarchal history. The general 
statement of the inauguration of the work of exploration at 
Heliopolis is being published by Professor Petrie in the annual 
volume of the British School in Egypt. It is not intended to 
give in this paper a full account of that work, mainly this 
first season a work of survey and of trial trenches, but to give, 
out of the closest observation of the excavations while in pro- 
gress day by day, some account and some discussion of what 
appear to be remains of the Shepherd Kings, the Hyksos, at 

We are informed by Manetho as quoted by Josephus (Against 
Ap. i, 14) that the Hyksos under their first king Salatis made 
the city of Avaris "very strong by the walls he built about it," 
and that they "built a wall around all this place, which was 
a large and strong wall." Until within a few years it was not 
possible to do more than speculate concerning the character 



of that stronghold with its fortifications large enough for a 
great army, the imagination, meanwhile, being all the time 
haunted by the familiar idea of a fortified camp furnished us 
by the Romans, manifestly a worthless idea for this case. In 
the year 1906 came the uncovering of the ruins at Tell el- 
Yehudiyeh by Professor Petrie. Among its surprises was a 
wall of mud brick enclosing a large area. The wall was about 
40 meters wide, but with sloping instead of perpendicular sides. 
The enclosure was in the form of a truncated oval or paral- 
lelogram with rounded corners, and measured about 350 meters 
in its shortest diameter. There was no gateway, but, instead, 
a sloping causeway led over the wall. The stratum of debris 
to which this wall belonged yielded a large number of scarabs 
of the Hyksos period and very few of any other time. The 
character of the wall prepared for defense by "bow people," 
such as the Hyksos probably were, the suitability of this wall 
for a fortified camp or great stronghold, the probable location 
of Avaris, and the more positive evidence of the Hyksos scarabs 
of this stratum of debris, led Professor Petrie to regard the 
fortress as an early stronghold of the Hyksos, either the one 
at Avaris or another similar one of about the same period. 
Now this Tell el-Yehudiyeh lies about four miles north of the 
site of Heliopolis. Its ancient Egyptian name was Hres and 
it was closely related to the religious institutions at the great 
capital. The history of the conquest of the delta by the Hyksos 
is not known, nor is it sure that they ever gained possession 
of the capital at Heliopolis, but considering their long reign 
and their practical suzerainty over lower Egypt the occupation 
of the capital is most probable, indeed, practically certain. If 
Joseph was prime minister under one of the Hyksos kings, as 
asserted by Syncellus, it seems certain that the Hyksos then 
had control of the capital. Joseph was given as a wife the 
daughter of the Priest of On, which implies that the religious 
establishment at On was in good measure subservient to the 

In view of all these facts, the conditions found at Heliopolis 
during the past season of work are most interesting and sug- 
gestive. Schiaparelli who conducted a limited work of excavation 

kyle: the hyksos at heliopolis 157 

at Heliopolis a few years ago, the full report of which was 
never published, announced that he had discovered near the 
obelisk a great wall about 40 meters wide and pierced by- 
mysterious tunnels. Professor Petrie, after considerable preli- 
minary survey work, set the workmen to cut a transverse section 
through this wall reported by Schiaparelli. The wall was imme- 
diately found and proved to be 40 meters wide at this point. 
The "tunnels" upon thorough investigation were found to 
be streaks of sand in a central core of the wall which had 
been thrown up by the builders to lessen the brick work. About 
this core the brick-work was erected. The core consisted for 
the most part of mud, but here and there sand had been 
dumped in. In a cutting of the wall these deposits of sand had 
the appearance of tunnels which had been filled up with sand. 
The completion of the transverse section made their real 
character at once apparent. The wall was shown to have 
sloping sides with a perpendicular height of about three meters. 
Another section of the wall was made on the axis of the 
temple area to find the place where the gateway of Egyptian 
temples was uniformly placed, but the wall was found to be 
continuous. A public road passing at this point prevented an 
examination in front of the wall for an inclined approach that 
may have passed over the wall. The course of the wall to the 
right and the left was easily traced upon the surface and was 
in the form of a truncated oval or parallelogram with rounded 
corners, having a width in its shortest diameter of 350 meters. 
It is not yet possible to determine the long diameter. Not 
many antiquities of any kind have yet appeared, but even in 
the small extent to which excavations have been carried this 
year some Hyksos pottery has been found in connection with 
the wall. 

Thus we have at Heliopolis a remarkable repetition of the 
conditions found at Tell el-Yehudiyeh: a wall with sloping 
sides for defense with the bow in both places, an inclined 
causeway over the wall at Tell el-Yehudiyeh instead of a 
gateway and the absence of any gateway at Heliopolis at the 
point where the gateway is to be expected at the entrance of 
the temple area. The dimensions and shape of the wall agree 



also, it being 40 meters wide and in the form of a truncated 
oval whose short diameter is 350 meters. Add to this the Hyksos 
remains in the similar strata. The concurrence of all these 
evidences raises a strong presumption that we have here at 
Heliopolis the same kind of fortification as at Tell el-Yehudiyeh, 
erected for the same purpose and by the same people. And 
this doubling of the evidence at these two places is a decided 
step forward in the positive identification of the builders of 
these strange foreign defences in Egypt with the great Hyksos 
invaders. It would be natural, surely, that foreign invaders 
having entered the land and made a fortified camp at Hres 
should repeat this method of defense at some other points at 
least, before they finally, if ever, gave up their character as 
bow-people, and adopted the Egyptian method of defense. If 
Tell el-Yehudiyeh be Avaris or a similar fortification, what 
is more to be expected than that when the Hyksos became 
masters of the capital four miles away they would fortify the 
seat of government there, including the stone temples, in the 
same manner as they had fortified at Avaris? Moreover the 
negative argument is of value here. Who else than the Hyksos 
were ever of sufficient importance and power in ancient Egypt 
to erect such foreign defenses and especially at the great capital 
of Heliopolis? Altogether it seems most likely that a new chapter 
has been added to the history of the patriarchal times and 
that further excavations will admit us to the place of the seat 
of the Hyksos government in the days of Joseph.